After last year’s Terminal Redux, Vektor‘s magnum opus and my personal album of the year, I have searched quadrant after quadrant of space in search for more bands capable of sharing the sci-fi thrash mantle with the Philadelphia band. My search led me back to my own planet, to Tuscany in Italy to be exact, where I found the three-piece Vexovoid, who are here to finish what Vektor started, with great respect to Voivod before them (even though neither band seems done yet). It’s no wonder the Tuscan thrashers supported Voivod as an opener during an Italian date for their European ‘Post Society’ tour earlier this year. There are differences between all three aforementioned bands, most subtle, but all matter. With a riff-heavy thrash style melded with a progressive and science-fiction edge, Call of the Starforger places Vexovoid firmly in the upper echelon of the budding prog-thrash scene.
There are many references to Vektor here, and while I will try to only use them where appropriate, it’s nearly impossible to avoid them in some instances. The band themselves are all-in with the comparison as well, and it shows. The guitar tones, complex riffs, track pacing and, of course, lyrical themes all come across as a love letter to the Philly thrashers. But this isn’t exactly imitation, and never crosses over into aggressive territorial posturing; the respect for their peers is there, and Vexovoid do things their own way regardless.
To be honest, I personally hear more cues taken from other, more traditional thrash bands. Songs like “Quantic Rupture” and “Hexaspark Fortress” weave from slow, atmospheric intros with groovy bass and whiny guitars to adrenaline-fueled power measures and catchy verse licks. It’s like the soundtrack to a starfighter departing from a space station hangar only to be met with unrelenting force and opposition in the cold, unfeeling vacuum of space. If you’re pressed for time, don’t fret, because this whole album is only 47 minutes in length, with most songs clocking in at under five minutes. The music wastes no time getting its point across, telling the story and getting out. It’s a good exercise of progression in moderation, and a solid mark in favor of the album. As such, there’s not much room for error for the elements that make up the whole.
It’s always fun to hear the guitar fly through arpeggios and dance up and down scales, like in the intro to “Prophet of the Void”. It can be very showy and never relents unless the mood calls for more pensive, spacey (no pun intended) instrumentation, which is left up to the bass and drums primarily. “Galaxy’s Echoes”, the halfway point of the record and longest track, demonstrates this well. The vocals, which a lot of thrash bands live and die by, are cutting. Bassist and vocalist Danny Brunelli sounds like David Sanchez (Havok) deepened his voice ever so slightly and traded social politics for extraterrestrial beings. He doesn’t have the same variation of inflections, tones or techniques as other singers in thrash, but he is far from monotone or boring. His vocals are also pretty audible, the levels for which are mixed very well with the blazing guitars, exceptionally present bass and relentless drumming.
“The Starforger” is a great song that shows off all the band has to offer. Catchy, complex drum rhythms drive the accelerating intro, before it explodes into guitar and bass fury. This is the last track on the album, and fittingly so, as it feels like a culmination of all you had heard up until that point. A fitting conclusion to this space epic that somehow managed to show more restraint than fellow bands might have! And that’s kind of the genius of this album: for all its flare and flash, it doesn’t overindulge or become arrogant. In fact, it’s some of the little things that give this album breadth, like the robotic voice on “Omega Virus” or the quiet celestial howling at the beginning of “Quantic Rupture”. By the time you’re done listening to Call of the Starforger, you feel like you’ve had a fulfilling journey, and in about two-thirds of the time it might have taken other bands to convey a similar experience at that.
It’s nice to see other bands take up the mantle of sci-fi prog thrash, which is especially comforting when you consider that the future of current genre champions Vektor is clouded with optimistic uncertainty. Vexovoid have the benefit of being our surrogate for the time being, but to refer to them only as such sells them short. Where their peers were all about indulging in the epic vastness of space and providing a larger-than-life opus to overfeed on, Vexovoid excel in being more straightforward and less bloated. Which one is better is up to personal preference, but this is a firestorm of an album with more riffs than there are stars in the black sea of space regardless. The final frontier is big enough for the both of them, and more; I sincerely hope that there are other bands out there beckoning us to scream out ‘sci-fi or die’ just as Vektor have done before.
Notable Tracks: “Omega Virus”; “Hexaspark Fortress”; “The Starforger”
FFO: Vektor, Voivod, Havok in spaaaaace